Highlights of 2020 EnviroVista initiatives and challenges
- As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, EPCOR adapted quickly to ensure that we continued to provide reliable and safe drinking water to the City of Edmonton and surrounding region. Like many other organizations, EPCOR had to rapidly implement new policies and procedures in the workplace to keep both our employees and the public safe and we had to adapt these policies and procedures throughout the year. Some of our programs, such as sampling and testing for lead at the tap in customer's homes, were impacted by the required safety measures. Some construction projects were also delayed. But the majority of our programs moved forward during the year after some adjustment. With the exception of a shortfall of water distribution system samples in April as pandemic transmission concerns were high and protocols were still under development (177 collected versus the required 190), EPCOR met all regulatory and internal drinking water quality requirements during the year.
- The issue of potential water quality problems in large buildings and facilities that were experiencing no or very low water use due to pandemic restrictions came to the forefront in 2020. EPCOR initiated a water quality management program that included increased monitoring in lower-than-normal use areas of the municipal distribution system and targeted communications to business customers about maintaining water quality during COVID shutdowns. EPCOR also contributed to the development of guidelines led by Alberta Health and the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association that provided recommendations for building owners and operators to maintain water quality in buildings.
- During the early stages of the pandemic, EPCOR engaged with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and the City of Calgary to ensure that there was back-up coverage for the operation of water systems across the province. EPCOR also provided water treatment and distribution assistance to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, a community we don't directly service but have operations in close proximity to, following the flooding in Fort McMurray in the spring.
- EPCOR continued to maintain Environmental Management Systems registered to the international standard, ISO14001:2015 for the Water Treatment Plants and the Distribution System. These systems encourage continuous improvement in how we manage environmental and public health impacts of our operations.
- EPCOR continued collaboration with AEP, North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance (NWSA) and the City of Edmonton to develop a comprehensive source water quality monitoring program for the North Saskatchewan River. The
WaterSHED (Saskatchewan Headwaters Edmonton Downstream) Monitoring Program involves building and operating a network of twenty-two flow and water quality monitoring stations at strategic locations throughout the watershed, from the headwaters to the Saskatchewan border. Though collection was temporarily paused due to COVID-19 restrictions, the network was fully operational in 2020 and special projects continued. AEP produced a
technical report on the results. In early 2021, the project also earned an Alberta Emerald Award finalist nomination.
- EPCOR updated the Source Water Protection Plan in 2020 including substantial new information on activities and potential risks in the watershed. Specifically, we added a section that addressed emerging stakeholder concerns around the potential increases in coal mining and their possible impact on Edmonton drinking water.
- EPCOR ramped up construction of the $44 M Enhanced Lead Mitigation Strategy in 2020. The enhanced lead mitigation strategy includes: (1) addition of orthophosphate to the Edmonton drinking to mitigate lead release from lead service lines and plumbing components containing lead; (2) full lead service line replacement in homes identified as high priority based on lead test results; and (3) full lead service line replacements whenever a service is replaced due to a water main renewal or maintenance work. Full lead service line replacement means replacing the entire pipe from "main to meter" whenever a service replacement is done. Sixty-nine of an estimated 360 high priority lead service lines and 187 other service lines were fully replaced in 2020, and another 13 were abandoned. All told, 256 lead services were completely removed from the system. Designs of systems for metering of orthophosphate into the drinking water at both water treatment plants were initiated and commissioning is expected at end of 2022.
- EPCOR received a key approval from Edmonton City Council for land rezoning to accommodate the construction of a solar farm within the fenceline at the E. L. Smith Water Treatment plant site. When built, this solar farm will help power operations at the E. L. Smith Water Treatment plant, but will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Edmonton and help EPCOR meet its GHG emission reduction targets. Design is underway and construction will commence in 2021.
- EPCOR has been operating our water treatment plants in Direct Filtration (DF) mode during the winter and fall seasons, when river water conditions allow it, in order to reduce the amount of chemical (alum) used to treat the water and the amount of solids residuals discharged back to the river during periods of relatively low river flow. The year 2020 was a success in terms of Direct Filtration operation with 168 days in DF operation and reductions of solids residuals released to the river of 43% and 59% relative to baseline in the winter and fall periods, respectively.
- EPCOR continued to investigate the environmental impact of the solids that are discharged to the river in 2020 and to build on the work we completed in previous years (2013 - 2019). EPCOR completed a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) assessment that concluded the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of residual treatment facilities outweighed the environmental benefits to the river. EPCOR developed a residuals management strategy that will be based on comprehensive discharge monitoring and improved environmental assessment of the discharges on the river.